MAKS gunning for Korea’s Black Eagles – but US has power to veto visit

MOSCOW | The MAKS International Aviation & Space Salon in Russia has invited the Republic of Korea Air Force’s Black Eagles to perform at next July airshow, but the USA has the power to block the T-50 being displayed in Russia.

The airshow’s director, Alexander Levin, met in September with the Republic of Korea’s Air Attache to Russia, during which the team’s participation in next year’s airshow was discussed, according to a press release from MAKS. An official request has been send to the RoKAF’s high command in the last few days, various Russian media outlets have reported.

Formed in 1953, Black Eagles currently fly eight T-50B Golden Eagles, supersonic advanced jet trainers and light attack aircraft produced by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Making their overseas debut during a high-profile UK tour in 2012, the team have since performed both in Singapore and Malaysia, and are recognised as one of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams.

However, such a visit could be blocked by the US government under the Arms Export Control Act, which was used to stop the Black Eagles performing at Airshow China in 2014, just days before the team were due to leave Korea. The act, which prohibits the export or demonstration of American military technology in “enemy states”, applies to the T-50 thanks to its General Electrics engines, and development support provided to KAI by Lockheed Martin. Instead of staging their dynamic air display, Black Eagles pilots attended Airshow China without their aircraft, meeting spectators and signing autographs.

The majority of the Black Eagles’ overseas appearances so far have been motivated by KAI’s desire to export the T-50, which could concern the US government. KAI – who have part-funded some previous Black Eagles tours – could also be less willing to take part, given there are few, if any, potential T-50 customers in the region. The T-50 would also be flying head-to-head with Russia’s own Yak-130 at MAKS 2021, which competes in the same marketplace as the T-50, but has seen more export success.

The Black Eagles’ sole trip to Europe so far was the result of years of planning negotiations, and saw the team’s jets being partially dismantled and transported to the UK by air. Speaking to This is Flight in 2014, the then-commander of the Black Eagles said it was the team’s ambition to undertake a second tour to Europe, this time ferry-flying the T-50s across Russia. The team’s trips to southeast Asia have been conducted in this manner, with fuel stops in Taiwan.

It has also been speculated that the Black Eagles are considering a wider tour in July 2021, which could include MAKS and the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK. While the Royal International Air Tattoo typically invite the RoKAF to participate, the dates of the two shows – seperated by only two days – would make such a tour practically impossible.

Despite many obsticles, MAKS has a history of attracting rare aerobatic teams, and became the first and only European show to host the Chinese Air Force’s flagship August 1st display team in 2013. Like the T-50, the J-10 fighters operated by August 1st had a low chance of scoring export orders in the region.